Background: Bacteria from the Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc) are the only group of cystic fibrosis (CF) respiratory pathogens that may cause death by an invasive infection known as cepacia syndrome. Their large genome (> 7000 genes) and multiple pathways encoding the same putative functions make virulence factor identification difficult in these bacteria.
Methods: A novel microarray was designed to the genome of Burkholderia cenocepacia J2315 and transcriptomics used to identify genes that were differentially regulated when the pathogen was grown in a CF sputum-based infection model. Sputum samples from CF individuals infected with the same B. cenocepacia strain as genome isolate were used, hence, other than a dilution into a minimal growth medium (used as the control condition), no further treatment of the sputum was carried out.
Results: A total of 723 coding sequences were significantly altered, with 287 upregulated and 436 downregulated; the microarray-observed expression was validated by quantitative PCR on five selected genes. B. cenocepacia genes with putative functions in antimicrobial resistance, iron uptake, protection against reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, secretion and motility were among the most altered in sputum. Novel upregulated genes included: a transmembrane ferric reductase (BCAL0270) implicated in iron metabolism, a novel protease (BCAL0849) that may play a role in host tissue destruction, an organic hydroperoxide resistance gene (BCAM2753), an oxidoreductase (BCAL1107) and a nitrite/sulfite reductase (BCAM1676) that may play roles in resistance to the host defenses. The assumptions of growth under iron-depletion and oxidative stress formulated from the microarray data were tested and confirmed by independent growth of B. cenocepacia under each respective environmental condition.
Conclusion: Overall, our first full transcriptomic analysis of B. cenocepacia demonstrated the pathogen alters expression of over 10% of the 7176 genes within its genome when it grows in CF sputum. Novel genetic pathways involved in responses to antimicrobial resistance, oxidative stress, and iron metabolism were revealed by the microarray analysis. Virulence factors such as the cable pilus and Cenocepacia Pathogenicity Island were unaltered in expression. However, B. cenocepacia sustained or increased expression of motility-associated genes in sputum, maintaining a potentially invasive phenotype associated with cepacia syndrome.